Sunday, January 4, 2009

Culinary fundamentalism

What's with the backcountry food feud?

OK, you’ve checked the weather, booked the huts, fished out the map and left a note for the flatmates. All that’s left to do now is call the team and see what people want to do about food. That should be pretty straightforward, right? Wrong.

On most backcountry trips trying to get agreement on camping food is like herding cats with a stick. In any group of three or more people you’re certain to have at least one mountaineer who insists on going as light as possible, and one gastro-trekker who refuses to forgo even the smallest culinary detail.

Before you know it, normally chilled-out friends will be arguing with quasi-religious fervour over what to eat and how. The mountaineers will be proposing olive oil as an entire meal. The gastro-trekkers will say “not unless it’s served with flatbread and dukka... and followed by another three courses!”

If you’re lucky a grudging cessation of hostilities will hold long enough for the trip to take place. But many backcountry teams have split acrimoniously over culinary differences before ever heading into the hills.

So what’s the deal? Why can’t we all just get along?

Well, just like any good debate, both sides make a compelling argument. Proponents of the light and fast approach say travelling with less makes for a purer wilderness experience - and that means making some necessary compromises on the food front. Plus depriving yourself a little while on the trail makes that first meal at home taste all the better.

Whereas the gastronomers argue that good food will make a great wilderness experience even more enjoyable – why let a grumbling tummy take the shine off the moment. And besides with a little intelligence you can bring the finer things along without breaking your back.

The only thing both sides seem to agree on is that the worst thing of all is a compromise. The middle ground of leaving the wine and cheese at home but not going light enough for serious adventures is considered an abomination by all concerned.

It looks like the knives... forks and camping spoons will stay drawn for some time yet.